Innovation is good

It’s part of human nature to innovate. If it wasn’t for the curiosity and tenacity of early man in discovering fire, we wouldn’t be here. We have an inherent belief that it’s in our power to make a better future for ourselves and those that come after us.

Having lived a life devoted to making things in his industry better, Steve Jobs famously said, Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.

Imagine if he hadn’t believed this to be true. 65% of the people reading this article might not own the iPhone they love so much.

Innovation isn't easy

Then, why aren’t we all innovating?

The reality is that the process of innovation - the act of innovating - is messy, difficult, heart breaking, expensive, lonely and has the potential to make you look like a fool. And there is no guarantee, after all the innovating, that you’ll have created the billion-dollar problem solver that the world was waiting for.

Da Vinci dreamt about flying 400 years before the Wright Brothers flew the first aeroplane. That’s a lot of years of dreaming, creating, testing, failing, and doing it all over again. What kept people trying?

It was a passion and commitment to solve a problem or realise a dream. Those that tried, were willing to fail. Da Vinci put his ideas on paper. He was far more successful with the Mona Lisa, but he was willing to share his vision of the impossible. Which is another hallmark of all significant innovations - an openness to share ideas. To be prepared to put yourself out there and look like a fool. Innovation takes humility.

As countries around the world roll out massive vaccination programmes, we have a group of scientists to thank for spending the last 30 years working together to develop the mRNA vaccine that meant Covid-19 vaccines could be available within 11 months of the outbreak. Their journey was filled with setbacks, lack of funding, disregard from peers and numerous failed attempts, but by the sharing of knowledge and collaboration, a solution was found. The quick success came from long-term innovating.

The construction industry isn’t typically known for its culture of innovation. Despite being a major contributor to the New Zealand economy, our investment in research and development is woefully behind many other OECD countries. Boom or bust cycles, small profit margins for contractors, siloed approaches to design and construction, and short term thinking do not provide an environment where people are willing to take risks or favour progress over profit.

It means our industry is missing out on the wonder of innovation.

Innovation breeds innovation

Going back to our example of aeronautical engineering. During World War One, Great Britain and the United States created what we now understand to be drones, for military purposes. An innovation that solved one problem, was then taken by other industries to fulfil a plethora of other purposes. For example, Californian-based company Zipline works with African governments, using drones to deliver blood to hospitals across East Africa. They recently announced that they would use them to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to remote communities in Nigeria. Innovation on top of innovation.

Prepare the ground for the innovation to grow

We see the problems that need to be solved: homelessness, poor quality housing, high levels of waste, broken communities, unprofitable businesses, mistrust between stakeholders and supply issues.

We believe these problems can be solved. How? By establishing a culture with values that nurture innovation. We build open and trusting relationships with our partners, bringing them in early on projects and inviting their feedback so we learn and grow together. We take risks and back each other, knowing that we may fail and if we do, we’ll keep going, not walk away. We want our people and those that we partner with, to know why we do what we do; to serve the people that will live in the houses we build. That way, we stay united in our purpose, which in turn brings a stronger, more resilient team.

If we are consistent in building this culture, then innovation will sprout and what we dream of now will be realised in the future. Like Da Vinci, we might not see it in our lifetime, but we will have played our part in the story.

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